Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
Today is Valentine’s Day—a fact you can’t miss if you have been in any store or seen any ad in the past gazillion weeks. Some people love V Day, others hate it. It’s a fake day, some say, created to sell stuff, and we should express our love for others every day of the year. What’s wrong with making a point of showing your love on a particular day, others ask? It reminds us to celebrate love, and it doesn’t have to be for a lover. We can celebrate with friends and family.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve never decided which side of V-Day I fall on because I have my own reason for disliking it: It falls on my birthday.
So I’m going to whine for a while, but I hope it comes out in the end with a bigger look at how Valentine’s Day and birthdays use similar genres to celebrate—and maybe they could be different.
When I was a child, having my birthday on Valentine’s Day made me special. It didn’t get me any more valentines at school (I’m from the days when teachers didn’t make every child bring a valentine for every other child, so I was often a little bit crushed by the paltry few cards deposited in my lovingly decorated Valentine’s Day shoebox.) But it made me special at home. Only I, of the four children, got a two-layer birthday cake made in the shape of a big heart and decorated with pink frosting. Only I received a box of Brach's chocolate-covered cherries from my dad every year on my birthday. All of us kids got presents on our birthdays and got to choose what we had for dinner that night. But I got extras.
Then I grew up. And Valentine’s Day became a conflict between the traditions of Valentine’s Day and the traditions of celebrating adults’ birthdays. They are surprisingly similar—hence the conflict.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? You go out to dinner to a nice restaurant.
How do you celebrate your birthday? You go out to dinner to a nice restaurant.
Unless your birthday is on Valentine’s Day, when the whole word has reservations ahead of you, the restaurants have all shifted to prix fixe menus that keep you from ordering your favorite dishes, and the servers are all rushing you through dinner to make room for the next seating.
What does your romantic partner give you for V Day? A card, flowers, chocolates, and perhaps a gift.
What does your partner give you for your B Day? A card, flowers and a gift (not usually chocolates in my experience, so there’s a difference).
Unless your birthday is on Valentine’s Day, when you’re expected to give a card, flowers, and a gift to someone else. There’s no reveling in receiving on your birthday. It’s not all about you.
I warned you—whining. If this is the worst thing that happens to me in my life, I am a lucky, lucky woman. And having people to celebrate either day with makes me fortunate. My nephew was born on Christmas, so the situation could be much, much worse. But still . . . Couldn’t I be able to celebrate my birthday like everybody else can?
Thinking about this blog topic has made me spot just how similar our ways of celebrating occasions are in the US. We buy cards for every occasion (thank you, Hallmark, our much loved Kansas City employer), give gifts, and eat special foods. We utter very similar greetings—“Happy ______Day.” My partner always does a great job of celebrating both my birthday and Valentine's Day. And he's thoughtful enough to have spotted these two cards, pictured below, one for each occasion.
What if we separated those occasions out a bit more? After all, the reason for celebrating Valentine’s Day is different from the reason for a birthday—or it should be.
So maybe I could celebrate my birthday differently. After all, I should probably spend the day with my mother, she who birthed me and created the occasion. Why should a birthday be about the birthed rather than the birther? (I’m already sick of "birth" as a verb.) Maybe an appropriate way to celebrate my birthday would be to take my mother out to dinner, buy her a card, send her flowers.
Oh no, wait. That’s Mother’s Day.
So maybe people could celebrate Valentine’s Day differently. After all, shouldn’t romantic partners celebrate their love for one another privately? What’s with all the PDA? Have a romantic dinner for two—at home. Hey, it works for Thanksgiving, when we cook meals at home to show our love. Share cards and gifts and chocolate—at home. Celebrate your love as it should be celebrated—at home!!! We don’t all need to witness it.
When I think about it in terms of the typical ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day, it does seem odd that it’s all about going out and being public. When I think about the purpose of the occasion (exigence, you fellow genre and rhetoric nerds), how better to fulfill that purpose than in the privacy of your own home, an intimate setting for two.
Meanwhile, that would clear out the restaurants for proper birthday celebrations. To fulfill their purposes, celebrating birthdays should be indulgent and public, not private. A birthday girl is special and should be spoiled—like with a fancy birthday dinner she didn’t have to cook. We’re glad she was born and we want to show the world! Look at her!! She’s still alive!
So Valentine’s Day, step aside. You could show your love in lots of ways that would be more appropriate to the occasion and wouldn’t interfere with my birthday. Do as a friend does and have chicken wings and watch cartoons--at home.
Or you could celebrate in alternative ways—like with the relatively new Galentine’s Day.
Or the old-fashioned way, like Al Capone’s Chicago Valentine’s Day massacre.
Any way that seems to you a fitting response, gunfire or resistance—any way other than taking up my preferred table in my favorite fancy restaurant. If you want to show your love for her, cook for her. That’s my new motto.
And a loving shout-out to my twin nieces, who were brave enough to be born on my birthday. For them, I’ll share.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!